What is the CRA doing?

February 5, 2009 at 13:55 | Posted in Life, New Media | Comments Off on What is the CRA doing?
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In skimming through my usual RSSs and blogs today I came across a new “Video Contest” being run by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). They are apparently looking for people to volunteer their time and resources to make Public Service Announcements for them regarding the evils of the “Underground Economy”. While I have no problem With PSAs on the given subject, and can see that creating such is definitely within the purview of the CRA, I do take issue with how they are doing it.

Given that

by their own rules they may never have to award a prize;

If for any reason, and without limitation, the Contest is not capable of running as planned, the CRA reserves the right in its sole discretion, to disqualify any individual who tampers with the Contest, and to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Contest.


The CRA reserves the right to suspend, cancel, terminate or modify the contest without advance notice, and to thereafter re-commence the contest, if at all, only at such time(s) and upon such terms and conditions as the CRA deems reasonable under the circumstances.

And the fact that that they are laying total claim not just to the winning video but to all videos entered;

All videos submitted will become the property of the CRA. Submission of a video constitutes the provision to the CRA of an irrevocable, non-exclusive right in all rights in the video, without limitation, to all now and hereafter existing common law, statutory and moral rights throughout the world (and regardless of whether or not such rights are now known), and including all rights to use,
copy, adapt, sublicense, edit, modify, make derivative works, publish, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, publish, delete or display the content of the video and the video itself, in whole or in part, in perpetuity in any and all media (whether now existing or hereafter devised) without limitation, and without consideration or acknowledgment to the entrant, as well as the unconditional right to use the idea and statements about the video for advertising/publicity purposes without additional  compensation, except where prohibited by law.

(emphasis my own)

It really looks like the CRA has decided it wants to get several PSAs made on this subject without what, in my opinion, would constitute due compensation to the creators. Even the prize for the winning entry is largely symbolic and lacking in remuneration.  What they do offer is:

If we like what you come up with, you could win the CRA Independent Video Producer Award and be invited to attend (at our expense, of course) an award reception in Ottawa for the premiere of your video on the CRA Web site.

An all-expenses-paid trip to Ottawa and a reception in your honour—not too shabby! And your video could be seen by millions of Canadians. It may be used in future advertising campaigns and outreach initiatives.

Which if I’m reading it correctly is a trip to Ottawa and  dinner after they do a photo op with the press to pat themselves (and the winner) on the back.

Royalties? No.

Scholarship? No.

A free professional quality video camera to continue doing such good work? No.

Now while I believe in civic responsibility and all that, I just can’t get behind a branch of the Canadian government trying to get it PSAs done for free. Especially in a time of economic slowdown/crisis during which the Finance minister and Prime Minister have promised to try to stimulate the economy. I guess they don’t consider paying people for the work they do as a way of stimulating the economy.

Some will look at this and say that it is a good cost cutting measure. And if the government was laying claim to only the winning video, giving full and prominently displayed credit to the creators every time they played the video, and giving an award that at least in some way supports the work of the creators, a scholarship to a media school, an internship at the CBC, professional quality video/audio equipment, the prize they are currently offering plus say $1000, I’d agree.

For me this is embarrassing. Not the contest, not the issue the contest is trying to address but the fact that the current government is basically trying to get something for nothing. The irony of them trying to get something for next to nothing while decrying people avoiding paying for stuff is not lost on me either.

Come on CRA people! Support Canadian video producers and either hire people and pay them the going rate or fix this contest so you aren’t ripping off the entrants so badly.


Working with the XO – Audio and Video

December 14, 2008 at 12:56 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off on Working with the XO – Audio and Video
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This is the first in an ongoing series of post on “Working with the XO”. By “Working with the XO” I am referring to working with it in it’s native state. I’ll have other series of extending or hacking the XO. This series is for people that Love the XO for what it is and want to keep it as close to a pure XO as possible.

Today I’ll be discussing Media (audio/video) on the XO. Many people that get the XO find that it can not play many formats “out of the box”. This is more a choice by OLPC then a hardware limitation. But there is good thinking behind the choice. Most Video/Audio codecs (compressors/decompressors) are patented and OLPC would have to pay royalties to include them. The XO does however support free, open source codecs. Those being Vorbis for sound and Theora for video and the OGG/OGV container formats. Sadly these are not the standard on the Internet (yet?!?, well I can hope). It is however quite easy to convert other formats to These free standards. The tool I have been using, which is available for both Windows and Linux is OggConvert. It is fast and simple to use. There are other programs that can do the converting but OggConvert is a good place to start.

Now that you can get the Media into a format that the XO understands it’s time to talk about the hardware limitations. Remember the XO only runs at 433 Mhz, so you aren’t going to be able to see a full frame rate 720p video on it. I got into the whole computer/multimedia thing back when I had a 500 Mhz machine with a TV card in it. So I’m kinda used to the restrictions. Basically you’ll want to drop the video resolution and frame rate. 320×240 ish (for 4:3 video) and a frame rate around 15 frames per second will play nicely. I have a script running on my main laptop that pulls down the local news from a website, and ever since I received the XO I have been happily watching the news on my XO at night. (sitting the XO on my chest while I’m laying in bed is great for watching the evening news.)

If you have a video that you need to down convert (drop the resolution/framerate on) I’d strongly suggest AviDemux. It’s free it works on Windows and Linux and it is easy to use. Sadly AviDemux doesn’t support Theora Video as an output choice so you’d still need to run the output from it through OggConvert. If you are using Linux and are comfortable dealing with scripts you can use VLC and a script. I can’t get the VLC command to stay all on one line here but the command to use in the script would look like:

vlc -vv “$1″ –sout ‘#transcode{ height=320,width=240,fps=15,vcodec=theo,vb=800,scale=1,acodec=vorb,ab=128,channels=2} :duplicate{dst=std{access=file,mux=ogg,dst=”XO_Vid.ogv”}}’

With the above all being on a single line. This will resize the video to 320×240. Drop the frame rate to 15fps, and convert it into Theora/vorbis/ogg format for the XO. The “$1” should be replaced with the name of the file to convert. I left it as “$1” so you could just drop the line into a shell script that took the name of the file to convert as the first argument. (N.b. this is the Linux version of the command, the Windows version may differ slightly I haven’t had time to look into that yet)

once you have your .ogg (sound) and/or .ogv files ready. Move them to an SD card or Thumbdrive and plug it into the XO. The XO will recognize the files, and play them in the browse activity by default. This works well enough, but if you want a slightly more media player looking interface you can go into the Terminal activity and type:

totem <name of file>

so something like

totem /media/disk/XO_Vid.ogv

I hope this helps people get started using their XO for media.

Questions and comments are welcome.

SnapYap.com – A quick review

September 10, 2008 at 10:45 | Posted in Cool, Tech | Comments Off on SnapYap.com – A quick review
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After my post on Tokbox’s growing pains and continuing evolution I was invited to take a look at SnapYap.com and see what I thought.

So, I went, I saw, I liked. With a few minor nigglings that are much more specific to me then to the service.

Thing I liked:

Their privacy policy and Terms of Service are easy to find and sensible.

The interface is clean, attractive, simple and easy to understand. I fully feel I could send anyone to the site and they’d be able to use it right off the bat.

It follows the “do one thing and do it well” line of thought. It’s about sending and receiving video calls/messages nothing more. It’s not trying to be a do video everything site.

It worked

I does not store the log-in state in LSO’s in fact their use of LSO’s is minimal.

Things I think could be improved:

In their registration they ask for date of birth. Being a Privacy/Security minded techie I’d prefer to see this changed to the more general “Age:” or eliminated if possible. They also ask for “Zip code:”, again I’d prefer to see a more general “Location:” type question. However given their sensible Privacy policy I was not too aggrieved by the above.

The Nigglings I mentioned:

When I first went to their site it failed to do anything video related. This was not their fault but instead due to the fact that I have a rather draconian firewall in place and their flash component was trying to make connections using ports outside the usual http/https/etc range. I was quickly able to resolve this but they may wish to include some documentation for other people less firewall/router savvy.

The other tiny (thus nigglie) thing was that their badge/banner used tags and wordpress.com doesn’t deal well with those so I had to modify the code slightly to get the badge on this blog. Again, not a major thing. It would just be nice if they provided and non-script, non-flash, badge that would easily embed into more restrictive hosting sites.


From my early perusal of the site SnapYap.com seem to be a cool site. I’ll definitely be both keeping an on on where they are going and passing the word about them on to others.

Will Tokbox survive?

September 8, 2008 at 11:17 | Posted in Tech | 5 Comments
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I fear that Tokbox.com,a recent start-up, may be heading in the wrong direction in a effort to attract users. I signed up for tokbox because it offered a way for people to leave me voice and video messages and feedback without having to install software or be technically advanced. (They will need a recent version of Flash but almost everyone has that.)

Tokbox recently added a new feature allowing users to make “public posts”. Sadly the level of intelligence on these “public posts” is not inspiring and in several cases points to the fact that Tokbox is suffering the same fate that many “Video chat” services fall into, which is devolving into a place where bored, horny men with little to do harass female users in their misguided attempts to find a playmate. Examples of female users complaining about this can be seen here , here and here.

Tokbox has started adding privacy features but at the time of this post the “Blocklist” feature is not working.

Another problem with Tokbox.com that I have pointed out to them in the past, is that they insist on using LSO’s (“Flash cookies“) to record a persons log-in state. This is a nightmare from a security standpoint, especially since the LSO’s do not seem to expire. I can come back 18 hours later, go to the tokbox.com site and still be logged in. This means anyone using tokbox from a public computer MUST, without fail, remember to log out or whoever uses that computer to go to tokbox next will be logged in as them. (aside to the tokbox guys.. Really guys, at least move the state-fullness of the log-in session to a regular session cookie, then at least when the people using a public computer close the browser the cookie will vanish. That, or set a short (10 min) timeout on the thing.)

I honestly do hope that Tokbox is able to sort these growing pains out, and is able to prevent itself from sliding into becoming yet another lurid “video chat” service. The ability to have people leave me video or audio feedback in a quick and simple way is a great thing. Bloggers and Vloggers are bound to love it. But I certainly don’t want to be sending unsuspecting people to a place where they’ll be getting harassed.

In my opinion the “public posts” are a move in the wrong direction. I think that Tokbox should move away from the chat paradigm, and instead focus on becoming the best free voice/video mailbox service on the net. That way they would carve themselves out a nice little unoccupied niche and would most likely thrive. (I am not an MBA, so this is purely a personal perspective)

Here’s hoping that Tokbox can survive and grow into the great service that I (and I’m sure others) are hoping it will become.

Site of the Week #7

April 26, 2008 at 14:54 | Posted in site of the week | Comments Off on Site of the Week #7
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This weeks site of the week is a Video conferencing site. It isn’t the most feature rich but it does have strong appeal for other reasons.

The site is:


MeBeam allows you to video conference with up to 11 of your friends (12 people total) in a extremely easy way. The things about it I like most are the lack of sign up and the total ease of use.

To start a conference all you have to do is to go to mebeam.com and supply a room name. That will create the room and take you to it. To invite you friends just send then the URL of the room from the address bar. It’s that simple. The video quality is good and the voice didn’t get lagged in the tests that I did. (however I didn’t get a chance to try it with a full 12 people)

so give mebeam.com a try.. There’s no sign-up needed. just good video fun.

A Video that should go Viral (But probably never will)

March 19, 2008 at 10:50 | Posted in Cool, Life, Vod/Pod casts | Comments Off on A Video that should go Viral (But probably never will)
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Today I’d like to point you to a very inspirational Video. It is a talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, A neuroanatomist who suffered a massive stroke and got to study it form the inside out. Her story is compelling. The experiences she had are moving. In my opinion this is a video that everyone could get something out of.

You can watch the video here

The video is hosted on ted.com, where you can find other great videos on various subjects.

Excelent Video on Fair Copyright in Canada!!

March 12, 2008 at 20:56 | Posted in Cool, Vod/Pod casts | Comments Off on Excelent Video on Fair Copyright in Canada!!
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I just watched an excellent video on fair copyright in Canada. The Speaker is Micheal Geist. The Talk is entitled “Facing Up To Facebook: The Fight For Fair Copyright in Canada”

you can find more information about the talk on Micheal Geist’s blog here

or you can watch the video directly here

I highly Recommend watching the video.


Latest revver video

March 12, 2008 at 18:01 | Posted in Revver Stuff, Tech | Comments Off on Latest revver video
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I’ve gotten my revver video up for last week (I’m trying to do one a week). It is a review of a open source video aggregater called “Miro”. You can check out the by clicking the thumbnail below.

it is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.

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